Son of a Songwriter: Several of Nashville's Future Stars Are Literally Next-Generation Talents
Imagine growing up in a home where it wasn’t uncommon to see the Dixie Chicks or other stars writing songs with one of your parents in a room filled with gold and platinum record plaques and silver cups commemorating No. 1 hits. For several of Nashville’s newly signed artists, this was a normal part of their childhood.
Joining already established stars Thomas Rhett and Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott — subjects of our 2013 story on second-generation country artists that also included Toby Keith’s daughter Krystal Keith and others — is a new crop of talented artists in their 20s. The group includes Tucker Beathard (son of hit songwriter Casey Beathard), Levi Hummon (son of Grammy-winning writer Marcus Hummon), Aubrie Sellers (daughter of Lee Ann Womack and hit songwriter Jason Sellers) and country legend Glen Campbell’s daughter Ashley Campbell.
Coincidentally — or perhaps not — most of these second-gen stars are clustered under one roof. Big Machine Label Group (BMLG) is home to Thomas, Ashley, Levi and Tucker. Ashley’s debut Dot Records single “Remembering” debuts on the Country Airplay chart at No. 56 this week, and she’s currently visiting stations to promote it. (Read Billboard.com’s recent story about Ashley here.) Tucker released a batch of unmastered demos via Spotify in October and, like Levi, will be formally introduced to radio in the first quarter of 2016. Aubrie, best known until now as the little ballerina in her mom’s “I Hope You Dance” music video, is now 24 and will release her debut album, New City Blues, in January on Carnival Music (via Thirty Tigers).
Meanwhile, keep an eye out for more second-generation stars to emerge in the coming years — after they finish school, that is. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s oldest daughter, 18-year-old Gracie McGraw, performs in an all-girl band called Tingo. She also duets with her dad on a track on his latest album and fearlessly debuted the song with him during a concert at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena earlier in 2015. And Garth Brooks’ youngest daughter Allie Brooks, also 18 and a college student like Gracie, performed at the ASCAP Country Awards earlier this month as part of a tribute to stepmother Trisha Yearwood, perhaps telegraphing a future music career of her own.
Dot artist Tucker, 20, had some wild teenage years that became the inspiration for the Eric Church single “Homeboy.” Casey — a two-time BMI songwriter of the year winner whose numerous hits include “Don’t Blink,” “The Boys Of Fall,” “Ten Rounds With Jose Cuervo,” “Come Back Song” and “Find Out Who Your Friends Are” — wrote the song about his son.
Two years ago, Tucker made the last-minute decision not to attend college, where he had planned to play baseball, and instead pursue music full time. He had a record deal offer within months of that decision. “It was pretty fast, but it was exciting,” he says. Since then, he has released the demos project, begun work on his debut album and opened a tour for Maddie & Tae, something he says was “a totally different king of thing for me” after he had become accustomed to “playing a lot of smoky, crappy bars.”
Tucker describes his music as “edgy,” and “a mixture of a lot of different influences I had growing up that just kind of molded into my own thing.” He calls his father “a role model,” noting, “The best thing I learned from him was just to really take pride in what you’re writing about.” He says that’s something that came naturally to him after seeing Casey do the same thing on hit after hit over the years. “I learned to put my true emotions or experiences into words.”
Casey has been “reassuring” to his son, reminding him, “‘You don’t need to chase what everybody’s doing. Stay true to yourself.’ Hearing that from somebody like him is really good.”
Valory Music artist Levi, 24, originally gravitated to visual arts, including painting and sculpture, in college before his interest shifted to playing the guitar, singing and songwriting as a way of dealing with what he calls “personal issues.” After transferring to Nashville’s Belmont University he began playing gigs around town with his father and soon picked up label interest. He recalls auditioning for BMLG senior VP A&R Allison Jones one day, for label president/CEO Scott Borchetta the next and then having an offer a week after that. Like Tucker, he says, “It was kind of an intensely fast experience.”
Levi, pictured, has spent the last year working on his debut project, most recently with producer Jimmy Robbins, and hopes to have his first single—tentatively scheduled to be “Life’s For Livin’”—to radio in early 2016. Says the singer, “I’m unbelievably ready to put out music.”
Dad Marcus signed to Columbia Records in the mid-1990s. But his debut album, All In Good Time, yielded just one charting single, “God’s Country,” which spent only six weeks on the Hot Country Songs Chart before peaking at No. 73. In the ensuing years, however, other artists discovered songs from that album and turned them into hits: Tim McGraw did so with “One Of These Days” and Rascal Flatts did with “God Bless The Broken Road,” which earned Marcus a Grammy for best country song in 2005. His other hits include “Born To Fly,” “Cowboy Take Me Away” and “Ready To Run.”
Levi has only a vague recollection of Marcus as an artist, but does remember going to sleepovers as a kid and getting homesick if his friends’ parents happened to be playing All In Good Time and he heard Marcus’ voice.
“I never thought that what my dad was doing would influence me,” he says. “But as I’ve been experiencing the music business and separating myself from my father, I’m experiencing subconsciously the lessons I learned from him.”
Those lessons are similar to those Tucker picked up from Casey. “My dad always walked to the beat of his own drum,” says Levi. “He was always such an independent force. I kind of realized that growing up, but never understood how important that was. As I’m looking at the music industry today, conformity is the easiest path in a lot of ways to try and get music out faster. The lesson I learned most from my father is just sticking to myself—letting other forces influence me, but also making sure that I’m being who I am.”
Because Marcus has experienced the ups and downs of the music business, Levi says the best advice that Marcus passed down to him was that “it’s all about hearing a thousand nos and waiting for that one yes. [Marcus] always says, ‘I really believe in you as an artist,’ and he always tells me, ‘I feel like you’re more of an artist then I was.’”
The two Hummons continue to collaborate on music, and Levi says they have written some songs together that he loves and that are likely to make his first album. “I think for me and Thomas and Tucker, it’s all about having fathers that are an incredible support system, but also knowing that you’re a different artist, a different person than them,” says Levi. “You’re going to have different stories. The main thing is just to tell your own story."
This article first appeared in Billboard's Country Update -- sign up here.